Game of Thrones, Season 2, Episode 9: “Blackwater” is something unique. It is unique in the history of this show: An entire episode in one location. It is more-or-less unique in the history of TV: A successful attempt to capture a big-budget battle — with all the brutality and epic scope you might expect in a movie — on the small screen.
It's an odd episode to recap, because so much of its success relies on its bloody visuals and impressive sound editing. And yet, recap we will. So read on for Wetpaint Entertainment’s recap of Game of Thrones Season 2, Episode 9: “Blackwater.”
A Prelude to War: The Tension Builds
We start with a few scenes clearly designed to build tension. First, Davos and his son fretfully discuss the battle as the walls of King's Landing draw into view from their vantage point at the head of Stannis' fleet. Davos' son speaks of the power of the Red God, Davos the power of King's Landing's never-breached walls. Davos' son has faith in his father, Davos is not so sure he will be successful. At least they both agree on one thing: No one really likes Joffrey or wants him to be king. Literally no one.
Inside the city, Tyrion and Shae spend one last moment together. Tyrion admits his fears, and Shae swears to protect him. We like where the show has gone with this relationship. Shae knows her own mind, and although she is technically Tyrion's prostitute, this continues to be one of the most open, honest, and apparently loving relationships in Westeros.
Hey, remember rickety old Maester Pycelle? He's back, attempting to give Cersei some advice, which she of course does not listen to. She wants one thing from him: Essence of Nightshade. One drop soothes the nerves. Three will put you to sleep. Ten will kill you. Exposition!
Meanwhile, the City Watch is spending the night getting drunk and hanging with loose women, like you do. Bronn undresses a girl while talking dirty about his broken nose (because even the big battle episode needs some titties). The Hound bursts in, sulks around, and antagonizes Bronn. Forget the women and booze, he says, they both just like killing. True. Bronn gets up to cut a Hound, but...
Saved by the Bell: Preparations Underway
The bells start ringing! Battle is upon us. The Hound and Bronn's fight morphs into “one more drink before the war, shall we?” This is why Bronn is the best.
Varys reflects that the bells always ring for horror while Tyrion's squire, Podrick Payne, dresses him in armor. Varys gives Tyrion a map of tunnels under the city, which could provide escape, but Tyrion promises to go down with this ship (er … city). Varys is not happy about Stannis' new religion, and tries to impress upon Tyrion the necessity of a Lannister win. Tyrion is the only man who can stop Stannis before he and his shadow-monster-birthing girlfriend take over the world, or whatever it is Varys is worried about.
Over on the boats, Davos starts up some drumming, for added atmosphere. Worth noting mainly because it works. Tension radiates off of the screen and into our ears.
A bit of light in the darkness: Bronn and Tyrion have a nice moment where they admit that they are totally bros, like for realsies. Their friendship isn't just about money. Screw who gets the throne; the one happy ending we want when this show is over is for Bronn and Tyrion to ride off into the sunset, setting up an excellent medieval buddy-comedy spin-off. Make it happen, HBO.
In case you had somehow forgotten that you really hope Joffrey dies, we're given a scene where he makes Sansa kiss his new sword ("Heart Eater"), pretends like he might kill Stannis even though he is a total coward, and is generally gross. Sansa and Shae watch him leave, and Sansa notes that he will live, because the worst ones always do. Girl is getting genre savvy. She goes off to hang out with Cersei and the other highborn women and children, who are being protected by one Mr. Ser Ilyn Payne, the tongueless man who chops off people's heads for a living.
Up on the walls, Joffrey tries to be intimidating because the Lannister fleet hasn't shown up, but Tyrion just doesn't care. Meanwhile, Davos is also wondering what's up with the lack of boats. His son thinks it's a good sign...
The Battle, Stage One: Let Them Burn
...But it's totally not. One ship floats into view, but Tyrion holds the archers. Joffrey yells some more because he doesn't understand about strategy. See, there is only the one ship, and as Davos' boat approaches it, Davos realizes his mistake too late. Because...
...It's a trap! The ship is filled with wildfire, the magical super-fire that we learned about in Season 2, Episode 5: "The Ghost of Harrenhal." Tyrion throws up his signal, Bronn shoots a flaming arrow, and BOOM goes the fleet in an explosion of green fireworks. And suddenly: Men on fire, water on fire, ships on fire. The whole fleet is a mess of green and red flames; screams fill the air. This scene is both gorgeous — the effects department basically guarantee themselves an Emmy here, and the contrast of green and orange flames is striking — and disturbing at a gut level. The near total lack of music is the right choice. You have nothing but the horrible sounds of men in pain as you watch the screen burn and people throw themselves to their deaths. This sequence is a little short — it seemed much longer in the book, anyway — but it's effective.
Davos and his son were both at the heart of the explosion, and there's no sign of them for the rest of the episode. Stannis, however, manages to survive, and declares that despite the setback, they are going to land. Sure, thousands will die, but this is war. "Come with me and take this city."
The Battle, Stage 2: The City Begins to Fall
Inside the city, Sansa is praying “for the gods to have mercy on us all.” Cersei is not impressed. She starts to ramble about her dead mom, which, sorry, is a hand she's played too many times. We just don't care. We prefer the part where she talks about how she'd rather fight than be shut up, waiting for the horror to come to them. She warns Sansa that if Stannis' men get in, all the women will get raped. So that's a nice thought.
Speaking of Stannis' men, they make it to shore, much to Joffrey's distress. The Hound leads the charge out against them on the beach, while archers rain fire down on Stannis' army. The Hound warns that he will retaliate “if any of these flaming fucking arrows come anywhere near me.”
Aaand: Fight! Stannis is leading the charge, because honor and stuff. Flaming arrows go flying. Men fall screaming as Tyrion watches, aghast. The Hound goes around kicking butt and taking names, clearly having fun. Lancel Lannister gets struck and runs away. Stannis' men just keep on coming. Blood. Blood everywhere. This episode is not for the faint of heart.
Back inside, Cersei is going on about how it's not fair that she's a woman. Jaime got to be heir to Casterly Rock, while she was sold to some stranger like a horse to be ridden. It's amazing how much we can simultaneously hate and sympathize with her. Our sympathy wanes when she starts to catch on to Shae's iffy story, but fortunately Lancel bursts in before Shae has to explain exactly how she got to be Sansa's handmaiden. He reports that things are not going well, and Cersei demands that Joffrey is brought back in. Lancel thinks this is a poor idea, but goes to relay the message. Cersei explains to Sansa that Ilyn is actually there to murder them if Stannis wins. Yay?
The Hound is still fighting away. The battle is blood and swords and brutality. A man on fire comes at the Hound he freezes up; he's saved by Bronn, who is also out there killing up a storm. The Hound is having some serious PTSD going on with all the flames.
Meanwhile, Stannis' men raise ladders and bring out a battering ram. They are dying in droves, but they're also gaining ground.
Stannis is still in the thick of it all, which is nicely contrasted with Joffrey, who is totally hiding behind the walls. Also behind the walls now is the Hound. Tyrion tells him to go out to fight. Joffrey commands him to go out and fight. But the Hound is just like, nah. “Fuck the Kingsguard, fuck the city, fuck the King.” Baller.
Lancel comes to pass on Cersei's message. Tyrion is like no Joffrey, you need to stay and fight. Joffrey looks really scared for a second, and maybe even conflicted, but then he leaves. YOU SUCK. YOU SUCK SO MUCH. The men immediately notice their king is gone, and start to lose hope. Things are not looking good for Team Lannister...
The Battle, Part 3: The Tide Turns
...Until Tyrion steps it up to lead the attack himself. But before picking up his axe, he uses his best weapon, his words, one last time. “They say I am half a man, but what does that make the lot of you?” he yells at the hesitating men, before explaining that he knows a secret way out of the city. “We'll come out behind them and fuck them in their asses!" He then proceeds to give one of the most honest (and certainly most Lannister) inspiring speeches of all time. Don't fight for your king, his kingdom, your honor, or any of that BS no one really cares about. Fight for yourselves. For your city. Your homes. Your women.“Those are brave men knocking at our door. Let's go kill them!”
Inside, Lancel reports that the battle is lost. A little quick to call that one, dude. Cersei hits him and storms out, giving Sansa the opportunity to really shine. She assures everyone that things will be okay, and leads them in a hymn. She's there for her people, though Shae eventually convinces her to go lock herself in her room, because she's in more danger from Ilyan than Stannis. Probably true. Stannis seems like the type to not murder little girls for no reason.
Sansa makes it safely into her room, where the Hound is waiting for her with an offer: He's running away to someplace not on fire, and he wants to take her with him. He'll escort her to Winterfell. Even amidst the adrenaline pumping drama of the war, this scene — one of the most memorable from the books — manages to be captivating. Sansa is clearly scared, but the idea of getting out appeals to her. The Hound, in his weird, bitter way, is kind to her. Everyone is a killer, he tells her. Literally everyone, including her dear old dad and her future sons. “The world is built by killers, so you better get used to looking at them.” Sansa asks again for assurance that he won't hurt her. “No, little bird, I won't hurt you." This dynamic is a bit different from the books. On the page, the Hound was more intimidating here, leering and threatening in a sexual way. But we like this, and it leaves us with a nice cliffhanger. Does Sansa really escape with him?
Out in the battle, the ram is ramming, Tyrion's men are attacking, there is chaos everywhere. It's hard to tell who has the upper hand, but everyone is giving it all they got. Especially Stannis. Stannis is not getting enough play in this recap, but the man is a master with his sword. Even Tyrion is doing well for himself, until one of Joffrey's Kingsguard cuts him in the face. Damn. Podrick the squire kills the Kingsguard man and rushes to Tyrion's aid. As he's starting to pass out, Tyrion sees a rush of men streaming in. Lots of men. Men with... Lannister banners?
The episode closes with a lovely montage. Cersei sits on the Iron Throne with her younger son, Tommen, on her lap. She tells him a reassuring tale about a young lion prince who will rule over all of the other men. Tyrion is passing out. But these new Lannisters are kicking ass. Cersei starts to uncork the Nightshade, clearly about to kill her son when —
BAM. The door to the throne room opens and in walks Loras. And Tywin, who declares the battle is won.
And it is. Stannis fights on 'till the last, refusing to give up, but his men drag him away. And there ends the first great battle for the Iron Throne. And what an episode it was. Blackwater spanned several chapters of the book, so our expectations were high. If anything, this exceeded them. Although the fire scene on the water was short, the horror of war was well captured overall, as was specific dynamic of this fight, with its several twists and turns.
Most importantly, the epic scale of the fighting was captured on screen, but it didn't overwhelm the more important emotional core of the story. From Cersei's fury to Stannis' determination, Sansa's inner strength to the Hound's PTSD, we felt for everyone here. (Except Joffrey. We felt nothing but contempt for that little snot.)
What did you you think? Let us know in the comments below.
- The Hound to Bronn: “You're just like me. Only smaller.” Nice.
- The bells always ring for horror: Dead kings, the city under siege, and marriage. Ha. In this world, that totally counts.
- Tyrion had so many wonderful lines this week we can't choose just one. Some favorites: “I'm entirely sure you're entirely sure what I'm suggesting.” "Don't take it personally. I don't entirely trust myself.” "That would make me the quarter man. It just doesn't have the same ring to it.”
- We learn a great Tywin-ism via Cersei this week: “The gods have no mercy, that's why they're gods.” That man sure does have a definite world view.
- We loved the moment that Sansa tells Tyrion she will be praying for his safety. He asks her if that's true, and she says “Just as I pray for the king's.” He knows that means no, and he seems to respect her for it.
- Shae was all around awesome this week. We love what they've done with her character, and we love that she had a knife to defend herself.
- A thought: Cersei was sitting on the Iron Throne as the city was almost falling. Jaime sat on the Iron Throne last time the city did fall (that's where Ned found him, you'll remember). Interesting parallel, there.
- Bronn is really just so excellent.
- We know Tywin is not a nice guy, but we still cheered when he walked in, because he is just so badass. It's hard not to root for him on principle.
- As book fans, it was excellent to hear "The Rains of Castamere" from Bronn and over the credits.
Check out all of Wetpaint Entertainment’s Game of Thrones coverage.
Catch the Game of Thrones Season 2 finale on Sunday, June 3 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.
Rebecca Martin is an editor at Wetpaint Entertainment. Follow her on Twitter @BeccaMartin47.
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